Emergency Care Orders for two children due to mother’s addiction and homelessness – 2017vol2#7

The Child and Family Agency (CFA) was granted Emergency Care Orders under for two young children in a regional city, with the consent of the mother. The mother was present in court but not legally represented. She told the court she had only found out about the proceedings that day and that she had phoned the Legal Aid Board office to request representation. The case was adjourned for a short period to allow the mother consult with a Legal Aid Board solicitor who was present in court. The two children have different fathers, neither of whom was present in court. One father was in detention at the time. The mother was homeless.

The CFA social worker provided a written report and in oral evidence told the court that the CFA had received 22 child protection and welfare referrals in relation to the children. The social worker was concerned for the children on account of the mother’s use of intoxicants including heroin in the presence of the children, her mental health, exposure to domestic violence and her homelessness and the fact that she was extremely difficult to contact.

An incident led to the youngest child, a three year old boy, being taken into care a few days previously via the Garda Siochana. This was the first court sitting since. A member of the public had contacted An Garda Síochána to express concern for the child. The Gardaí found the child and his mother in a derelict porta cabin. There was no electricity or running water. The Gardaí removed the child using their powers under section 12 of the 1991 Child Care Act.

The boy was initially brought to hospital for a health check-up. He presented as hungry and extremely pale. The social worker described how the child’s clothes, shoes and socks were wet through with urine and had to be discarded. The Gardaí reported that when the child was being driven in the squad car he asked the Gardaí if they had any money as he was hungry. After his discharge from hospital the boy was placed with foster carers. The foster carers reported that the child cried in his sleep, presented as traumatised and was aggressive with his foster carers and other children.

The second child, a girl of primary school age, was not with her mother and brother at the time of the incident that led to the boy being taken into care. The girl had been left in the care of a close relative and remained in his care at the time of the court hearing. The CFA was not happy with this informal arrangement and wished to take the girl into care. The relative was known to the court, he had a long history of engagement with the criminal justice system and there was an exclusion order in place against him on behalf of his former partner.

The CFA made an application for an Emergency Care Order under section 13 of the 1991 Act and requested the issuing of a warrant authorising a member of the Garda Síochána to enter any relevant premise to deliver the child into the custody of the CFA. The mother expressed her concern that the relative might create a “massive scene”, which would frighten her daughter. She commented to the judge: “You know what ways he is.” The CFA informed the court that they planned to take the child into care directly from school and described the Garda warrant as “a backup”.

The mother consented to the court’s granting of the orders sought and expressed a wish that her children be placed together in care. She was anxious that she be able to see them. The CFA indicated that it was their intention to place the two children together in a new foster placement.

The judge granted an Emergency Care Order for a period of eight days in respect of the boy under section 12(4) and in respect of the girl under section 13 and issued a warrant under the Child Care Act 1991.